Over the past few months, students have turned to online groups to share their frustrations and talk about aspects of race that are often ignored or considered taboo.
The organizers of the groups say they are an important forum for allowing students of color to share their experiences with the rest of campus. Many of the posts include examples of microagressions, ways officials can promote equality or interactions that multicultural students say have made them uncomfortable.
Microaggressions are what Derald Sue, a psychology and education professor at Columbia University who specializes in multicultural issues, defines as the “everyday slights, indignities, insults and put-downs that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with well-intentioned white people.”
Earlier this month, freshmen Nkechi Okoronkwo and Devan Cole launched I Too, Am GW, a Tumblr and Instagram project featuring photos of participants holding whiteboards that share microaggressions they have encountered on campus, as well as empowering messages.
Okoronkwo said that she hopes her project can help others understand what it means to be a person of color at GW.
She said that on a predominantly white campus, she has often been treated as a “token black girl” in groups of students who don’t often interact with people of color. She said having to constantly answer questions or fight stereotypes can be exhausting.
“I’m in class and the professor says something about black people or Africa and there’s a general look towards me, like ‘Speak for your race,’” she said. “I don’t think most people look to white people and say, ‘Hey, speak for your entire race because you guys are all the same.’”
Though Okoronkwo – whose page also features student interviews about how the University can improve minority students’ experiences – is not involved in any talks with officials, she said she hoped her page would grab their attention. Officials at the Multicultural Student Services Center did not return a request for comment.
She said that people may not realize they have done something offensive – like telling her she is “pretty for a black girl” – because they think their comments are harmless or even flattering.
“It kind of builds up and it makes a person feel like they’re not an individual, like you’re made of all these different parts that are interesting to other people,” she said.
The project coincides with the creation of Colored Colonial Confessions, which launched last month and publishes anonymous submissions about students’ experiences with racism.
One of the page’s administrators, an undergraduate student who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the page’s content is anonymous, said conversations about race within the multicultural community haven’t always reached the rest of campus.
“Once we can create awareness between a majority of people on this campus, that’s when we can take the next step and start creating some kind of action to alleviate these kinds of problems,” the student said.
In one post, an individual complained about people speaking to them slowly because they were Latino and strangers thought they did not know English. Another criticized using the word “exotic” to describe people’s skin color, because it reinforces a beauty standard that says one color is normal.
Though freshman Amie Idriss did not start Colored Colonial Confessions, she and her friends first started their own conversations when they began publishing black history facts in a GW Facebook group in February, Black History Month, to “bridge the gap” between the black community and other students.
Idriss, who attended a mostly non-white high school in Maryland, said she never experienced a microaggression until arriving at GW, where other students would try to touch her hair or ask her to teach them to “twerk” because she is black.
She said the projects can help create a safe space for students of color, and said students may feel validated to hear similar stories from others.
“If someone says something is offensive to their race or to their culture, it’s offensive to their race or to their culture and I think it’s as simple as that,” Idriss said.
Kheri Freeman, president of the Black Student Union, said that national issues, such as the events in Ferguson, Mo., have made students more attentive to conversations about race in the past year.
“It’s becoming very obvious that race [issues] can’t be seen as something of the past anymore and I think that’s really why it’s coming to the forefront,” Freeman said.